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The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other anti-discrimination laws to clarify at which points in time discriminatory actions qualify as an “unlawful employment practice.” According to the legislation, unlawful conduct occurs when: “(1) a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted; (2) an individual becomes subject to the decision or practice; or (3) an individual is affected by application of the decision or practice, including each time compensation is paid.” The law further states that individuals may receive back pay as compensation for discrimination that occurred up to two years preceding the filing of a charge.
By clarifying a technicality in employment discrimination law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act deters discriminatory practices in the workplace and ensures that when discrimination does occur, wronged employees can receive fair compensation.
The legislation clarifies that employment discrimination law should be interpreted the way courts have traditionally understood it – until the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a more restrictive interpretation in the 2007 Ledbetter V. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. decision. In this case, the Court ruled that plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter was not eligible for compensation despite years of being paid far less than her male peers and even some male subordinates. According the Court, unlawful discrimination had occurred only when her employer first set the discriminatory pay rate, even though Ledbetter had no way of knowing about it until years later. Under this ruling, since Ledbetter’s employer was able to conceal the discrimination for years and she did not find out about the discrimination until it was too late to file a complaint (within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck, according to the Court), she had no legal recourse. By reaffirming that a fresh discrimination offense occurs each time an individual is impacted by a discriminatory practice, including each paycheck that includes unfair compensation, this legislation effectively reverses the Supreme Court’s decision and ensures that people subjected to discrimination in the future will continue to have effective recourse to the law.
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